EAST CANTON -- Kelly McGee gave her husband Reggie "her heart" many years ago when they married. This year, just before Christmas, Kelly showed her love to her husband in a sacrificial and unique way when she gave him a kidney.
"I owe her my life," said Reggie about Kelly. "She went above and beyond for me."
On Dec. 14, the operation was performed to remove a kidney from Kelly and implant it into Reggie. According to the medical staff at Cleveland Clinic, it is extremely unusual that a wife would be the perfect donor for her husband. However, in this case Kelly was, and she readily agreed to do what she could do to save the life of the man she loves.
Reggie, who many in the area know for his long-time, former service as mayor of East Canton, was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease about seven years ago. This is the same disease that claimed the life of his father in 1971, but in these days-- there is so much more that can be done to treat it.
When a patient's kidney function drops below 20 percent, the person is eligible to go on a nationwide donor list, provided they meet other criteria for an organ donor. Reggie's kidney function dropped to 19.5 percent about a year and a half ago. He then began the process of testing at Cleveland Clinic Medical Board, which determined if he was healthy enough to receive a kidney. Approval came in April of 2011.
He could have received either a cadaver kidney or a living-donor kidney, but at that time, the McGees never considered that Kelly would be that living donor. For someone to be a living donor, six factors must be matched in the recipients body. The top three are blood type, genetics and antibodies. Kidneys from living donors have lasted from six months to 25 years.
On Dec. 4, Kelly's surgery began at 5:30 a.m., with a team of three doctors, headed by Dr. Jihad Kaouck. She new going in that she would have more pain following the surgery than her husband would. She was also told she would have back pain for at least two weeks. The operation lasted three hours, and at first the doctor's looked to see if they would find any problem that would prevent continuing the procedure. Thankfully, they did not find a problem, and they were able to remove one of her kidneys.
At 8 a.m., Reggie was taken to another operating room for a 10-hour surgery, with a team of five doctors. Dr. Stuart Flechner was his surgeon. They removed his polycystic kidneys, which weighed about 20 pounds and were filled with golf-ball size cysts. Reggie could have opted for the kidney to be removed and then to come back in two months to receive the donated kidney, but he decided to do it in one procedure.
A kidney from a cadaver could take weeks for the kidney to begin working, but when a patient receives a living-donor kidney, the kidney can function immediately. That is what happened in Reggie's case. With the help of the kidney cleansing his body of extra fluid, Reggie said he actually dropped from being 240 pounds the morning of the surgery to 218 pounds on Dec. 20.
He quite soon noticed the difference in how he felt and his stamina. "You don't really know how bad you have felt until you start to feel better," remarked Reggie. "Because my iron had dropped, I felt fatigued and often had to come home from work and take a nap. I am really feeling better now and feel like I am getting back to normal."
Reggie does have to take 31 pills a day, which include anti-rejection medicine. However, he and Kelly were both able to return home before Christmas and the entire family, which includes their children Logan and Keegan, felt blessed to have been able to share this special celebration of life with each other.
"We had a low-key Christmas," said McGee. "Kelly can't drive and I had to watch being out around people too much because of my immune system."
Reggie said he was thankful for their family members, their church, Mt. Tabor United Methodist and the community for all the support and help.
"Our church arranged volunteers two cook food for our dinners," he said.
He added that Kim Moody came over to plow their driveway during the snowstorm and Carrie Little and her daughter Dana Kuhlman brought in groceries and helped out in various ways. Logan and Keegan were able to stay with the families of their friend while their parents were in the hospital-- thus not having to miss school. Family members also had the children over for Christmas, so they could celebrate the normal Christmas dinner, opening of gifts and being with family.
Both Kelly and Reggie are thankful to everyone and their only words of advise are "consider learning more about being an organ donor."
For more information, see www.pkdcure.org.